Restaurant Workers Are Quitting At Record Rates––Here's Why That's No Surprise

by Holly Garcia
Originally Published: 
Scary Mommy and shironosov/Getty

One incredibly hectic Wednesday, I went online to order dinner to-go. No matter how many times I refreshed or entered my zip code, our closest restaurant didn’t come up. Eh, I didn’t think much of it; tech malfunctioning in 2021 is almost a guarantee. So I hopped on the phone instead. I mean, it didn’t bother me to have to wait, because I didn’t have to cook. Folks foodservice, y’all are my heroes.

Someone on the other end of the phone answered asking to place my order. When they asked where I’d like to pick up, they informed me that particular location was closed for the day. Why? Because not enough employees came in to get them up and running. I can’t say I was surprised. I mean, I’d been reading article after article on LinkedIn about The Great Resignation. This year has taught us time and time again to let go of anything that is not serving us. Even if it’s our 9 to 5.

Here’s the thing, when everything was shut down, restaurants were one of the few places that stayed up and running, and man did they hustle. Now a year and a half in, more and more patrons are coming back, while many employees have decided to leave for good. According to NPR, “Each month so far this year, around 5% of this workforce has quit.” That’s a massive amount of employees but, can you blame them?

Low Pay and High-Stress Environments

I’ve never held a job in foodservice before, but I did work in retail for close to a decade. So yes, I totally feel your pain. Have you ever met that woman who absolutely lost her shit when her coupon didn’t work?

Personally, I think everyone should hold some type of service-related job in their lifetime (preferably before they have spending power). Why? Because nothing empowers Karen-like behavior more than a person who hasn’t been on the other side. Service-related work teaches lessons in empathy and patience when you’re the one doing the buying. Whether you’re in retail or the foodservice industry, being forced to work face to face with people in the day and age of Covid (which ISN’T over) is a game of Russian roulette every day.

Plus, the high-stress environment isn’t worth it. Especially when you get paid pennies and rely on tips. As a patron, I always tip and tip well, even when I’m not dining in. Actually, I’ve only dined in once (outdoor patio style) since Covid has hit.

First off, I have no desire to sit in close quarters with other strangers. Especially in a county where only 45% of people are vaccinated. Ugh. Every time I hear someone hacking up a lung in a public space, I freak the fuck out. Yeah, I know it’s allergy season. But I don’t know if that sneeze (that didn’t get caught by your mask, because midwest ‘Merica) is sending Covid droplets my way or was triggered by pollen.


Getty Images/iStockphoto

Secondly, it’s not worth it to put these servers and hostesses at risk just to earn a pittance, and they know it. That same article also cites, “Leaving food service had to do also with its culture: exhausting work, unreliable hours, no benefits and so many rude customers.” Being on your feet non-stop is undeniably exhausting. And if business is slow, you might lose that shift you were counting on. But I’ve no doubt the first and foremost reason behind their departure are the rude, disrespectful people they have to deal with every day.

If You Dine-In (Or Pick Up), Don’t Be A Jerk

Bottom line, I know 11 times out of 10 I’d prefer to not cook. I’ve found myself ordering takeout more often than I’d like and definitely more often than I have in the past.

If you’ve found yourself in the same situation, I totally understand, no really, you have no idea. But if you find yourself doing so, please make sure you’re treating employees who make carside to-go (aka the best thing since sliced bread) a reality with generosity, hella kindness, and respect.

As much as one more conference call makes you want to throw your PC out the window, foodservice staff want to throw out their this-is-the-smile-I-make-when-I-really-want-to-curse-you-out look away, and never look back. It’s been a long year and a half for all of us, but even more so for those people who hold positions that put them at risk by coming face-to-face with patrons every single day.

So Karen, Dick, and Harry, don’t throw a damn fit if your coffee is hot instead of iced, or if you are less than thrilled with the wait. If your order is inaccurate or incomplete, let the staff know. But under no circumstances should you be yelling, disrespectful, or belligerent to people who are just trying to do their job. Have some grace and patience. Don’t be rude or a jackass. And don’t give foodservice employees yet another reason to get the hell out of dodge — they have enough already.

This article was originally published on